BLOOMINGTON — The Downtown Task Force says developing the site of the Market Street parking garage into a hub for the city's library, a Connect Transit bus transfer station and public parking likely would be the best option for reinvigorating the city's core.

What has been called a catalyst project to stimulate wider downtown redevelopment was a centerpiece of a report of final recommendations the panel approved 5-1 Tuesday. 

For a secondary possible catalyst, the task force said the city could push to acquire and/or redevelop vacant downtown properties, such as the privately owned Front 'N' Center and CII East buildings, and continue pursuing a downtown hotel and convention center near the city's downtown arena. 

"I think on the whole, the task force is very excited to get some of these proposals before (the City) Council and begin the conversation about how they could be implemented," said Ward 4 Alderman Amelia Buragas, who chairs the eight-member panel the council created in May at the suggestion of Mayor Tari Renner.

The panel was asked to brainstorm ideas to reinvigorate the downtown and present a final report by Dec. 31. Buragas said that deadline was moved forward so the council could factor the recommendations into the budgeting process.

Among members of the public speaking in favor of the report were Connect Transit Board Chairman Mike McCurdy and General Manager Isaac Thorne; former Bloomington Public Library board President Carol Koos; downtown business owner Tim Tilton; and McLean County Board member Josh Barnett, a former Bloomington Planning Commission member.

Ward 9 Alderman Kim Bray, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said she appreciated the public comment Tuesday, "but as a member of the Downtown Task Force I have received a lot of information from others who have different views, about the location of the library for instance." 

The library board and most aldermen favor expanding the library at its current location, 205 E. Olive St., a location the panel does not recognize as being part of the downtown core. Also, more than $80,000 has been paid to the Farnsworth Group to conduct a feasibility study and provide three conceptual site plans for expansion of the library at its current site.

"The hotel was added to one of the pages (of the report), and I don't think we spent any time talking about that here in our group," said Bray.

"The report would be better stated as options rather than recommendations, specifically to the areas of controversy which relate to the library location and to incorporation of a hotel into the downtown," Bray added. 

Task force members who voted for the report were Buragas; Carlo Robustelli, who represents downtown on the McLean County Board; city planning commission Chairman Justin Boyd; and downtown property owners Bobby Vericella and Joe Haney. Absent were Ward 1 Alderman Jamie Mathy, who also is a downtown business owner, and downtown property owner Mike Manna.

Former Downtown Bloomington Association director Tricia Stiller is no longer a task force member because she now is employed by the city.

Partnering with Connect Transit would make the project eligible for federal low-interest loans and grants, McCurdy and Thorne said.

"I am here to express support for expansion of BPL within the central core of downtown," said Koos, who retired in April after serving 20 years on the library board. "At its current site BPL is in a location that is off and away from major traffic routes."

The public library, which attracts about a 1,000 people per day, could be a catalyst to bring more people into the downtown, she said.

If the Market Street garage site is not used for the library project, the task force called for looking at it for a "mixed-use facility including housing or office space."

The report also calls for encouraging redeveloping downtown surface parking lots to increase space for retail and housing.

Much of the report focused on what the group refers to as "placemaking" — creating inviting public spaces through beautification and public art and making the downtown more walkable.

It is a focus that "offers simple, easy-to-achieve and comparatively inexpensive opportunities to improve and enhance the downtown area with a high potential return on the investment," the report said.

Adding on-street parking meters was not recommended.

Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @pg_nagle

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